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The Protestant Crusade in Great Britain: 1829-1860.

Someone who says that the European Union is a device to enable the Pope to take over the United Kingdom is regarded as eccentric, yet a politician who defends the separate identity of Northern Ireland as a bastion against popery has secured a mass political following. The realization in the last decade or more that popular Protestantism is still a political force, albeit in an attenuated form, explains the relevance of John Wolffe's study. Contrary to earlier interpretations, Dr Wolffe argues that the effect of Roman Catholic emancipation in 1829 was 'if anything, to strengthen active anti-Catholicism'. He discusses this at two levels: the development of pressure groups, such as the Reformation Society and the Protestant Association, and the party-political responses of both Tories and Whigs, such as Peel and Russell. Despite a series of 'Protestant' issues, culminating in the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, political Protestantism was ultimately unable to re-establish itself as a determinative political force. Dr Wolffe sees the turning-point in 1855, when Derby and Disraeli declined to form a Conservative ministry after Aberdeen's resignation. Thereafter its future lay in pressure-group, rather than party, politics. Evangelical influence found a temporary resting place with Palmerston on the basis of family connections (through Shaftesbury), but reasserted its essential Toryism in support for establishment and the union with Ireland.

Dr Wolffe's case is well researched and well argued. He rightly notes the importance of anti-catholicism as a popular movement. Yet the theological significance of no-popery is perhaps even greater than he suggests. Presbyterians in general and the Church of Scotland in particular were committed by the Westminster Confession to the belief that the Pope was Antichrist - a proposition which originally had as much to do with the understanding of Church government as prophecy, but by the nineteenth century was predominantly interpreted in the latter context. The Church of Scotland's internal troubles in the 1830s were accentuated by the criticism from Seceder Presbyterians that emancipation had destroyed its credibility as an Established Church, because the civil magistrate was tolerating error - also contrary to the Confession. Many Anglicans, whether High or Low Church, believed the Pope was Antichrist, and Newman took most of the 1830s to work through the consequences for his understanding of the Church of England of abandoning this belief. The interest in the fulfilment of prophecy was heightened by the development of pre-millennial views in this period, replacing an older post-millennialism. This, together with the Tractarian movement, helps to explain the difference between the English and the German theological agenda. Anti-catholicism remained a significant component of Protestant theological self-understanding.

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Author:Thompson, David M.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1994
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